Fighting Against Forced Disappearances in Latin America


What is a Forced Disappearance?

A forced disappearance consists of a kidnapping, carried out by agents of the State or organized groups of private individuals who act with State support or tolerance, in which the victim "disappears". Authorities neither accept responsibility for the deed, nor account for the whereabouts of the victim. Petitions of habeas corpus or "amparo"- legal mechanisms designated to safeguard the liberty and integrity of citizens-are ineffective, and the kidnappers remain anonymous.

The objective of forced disappearance is not simply the victim's capture and subsequent maltreatment, which often occurs in the absence of legal guarantees. Because of the anonymity of the captors, and subsequent impunity, it also creates a state of uncertainty and terror both in the family of the victim and in society as a whole. Uncertainty exists because people do not know what to do or where to turn. From the first moment, relatives have doubts about the victim's actual fate and the benefits of searching for their loved one. Terror is caused by the unknown yet undoubtedly terrible fate of the victim, and the realization that anyone can be subjected to a forced disappearance and any motive may be used to justify the disappearance. A forced disappearance violates a series of fundamental human rights, including: the right to liberty and security of the person, the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law, the right to legal defense, and the right not to be subjected to torture. In addition, forced disappearance constitutes a grave threat to the right to life.

Forced disappearance paralyzes opposition activities by individuals as well as by society. The victim of forced disappearance is neither a simple political prisoner nor--as the abductors would like him/her to be considered--a dead person, although many times their corpses are later found.


Initially, each relative begins an individual search. Later he or she meets relatives of other disappeared persons, and the tasks of searching and denouncing lead to the formation of associations of relatives.

The growing awareness over time of the origins and aims of this form of repression, and the broadening role that the movement of the families of the disappeared played, brought us to cross national boarders and establish communication with other Latin American countries. The collective analysis and understanding of the problem, and the obvious benefit of joining forces behind common objectives gave rise to FEDEFAM.

The Federation realizes that, at the level of each country, the only guarantee of human rights is the people's determination not to permit this repressive practice. It is indispensable that the grassroots movements know, understand, and combat the crime of enforced disappearance which, without doubt, affects all of society. Forced disappearance is not simply a problem of the victims and their relatives, or even of our countries and our continent, but rather a problem for all humanity.

FEDEFAM urges all human rights organizations, solidarity groups, unions, political parties and churches to publicize this problem and this struggle, and to join forces to eradicate this crime for all time from our land.

We must join forces to demand thorough investigations, to rescue alive those who are disappeared, and to bring the perpetrators to justice--not for revenge, but in the name of justice itself and for the dignity of a civilized society. Societies cannot be constructed on a foundation of false reconciliation, inadequate justice, presidential pardons, and forgetting injustices done. Ignoring justice is the surest way to encourage injustice.


The latin American Federation of Associations for Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared (FEDEFAM) is a nongovernmental organization formed by associations of relatives of the disappeared in countries of Latin America and the Caribbean which have or are currently practicing forced disappearance. FEDEFAM is a non-profit humanitarian organization, independent of all political or religious doctrines and institutions.


FEDEFAM was founded in January of 1981 in San José, Costa Rica, and was formalized at the Federation's second Congress in Caracas, Venezuela, in November of 1981. FEDEFAM has Consultative Status (Category II) with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). The Federation's work depends on the efforts of its Association members and the dedicated support of individuals and organizations in Latin America and abroad.

Countries With Member Associations

Argentina, Bolivia, Brasil, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, México, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Perú, Uruguay.



The Congress of FEDEFAM is the Federation's highest authority. Now planned to meet every two years, it brings together delegates from the 14 countries which have member Associations, and members of support and solidarity groups. FEDEFAM's Board of Directors is composed of an Executive Committee and one representative from each member country. The Executive Committee consists of officers designated by the Congress to serve as the following:


Executive Secretary

Financial Secretary

3 Vocales (untitled members)

The Executive Secretariat of FEDEFAM is located in Caracas, Venezuela.


FEDEFAM publishes:


FEDEFAM relies on Support Groups in different countries to assist with the tasks of advancing the principles, campaigns, and activities of the Federation. These Support Groups, although not a part of the formal structure of the Federation, advocate for its goals and principles and report regularly to the Congress.

Any person who, in good faith, makes the principles of the Federation his or her own, may become a member or form a FEDEFAM Support Group, subject to prior communications with the Federation.

FEDEFAM depends on the collaboration and support of individuals like you. With a donation of US $15 or more you will receive an annual subscription to the quarterly newsletter, "Hasta Encontrarlos".

Postal Addres: Fedefam 2444 - Carmelitas 1010 - A - Caracas Venezuela
Office Address: Edif. Aldomar Piso 7 - Oficina 55, Marrón a Cují
Phone/Fax: Phone +58.2.564.0503 - Fax: +58.2.564.2746



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